sex ed

Rape is Rape, There are no Grey Areas

knoxvilleby Jasmine Peterson

I do not watch television so I have never seen the show Girls, but I knew something big had happened when my news feed began filling up with statuses and then articles about whether or not events depicted in a recent episode constituted rape.

Although I maintain something of a distance from media, I like to remain informed about the important things, and this seemed to be a pretty big deal, so I started reading what was being written. I mean, how could viewers be confused about whether or not they had witnessed a rape scene or not?

This concerns me greatly. But, at the same time, it doesn’t surprise me. Rape culture is pervasive. It blurs the lines between victim responsibility and rapist culpability. It creates these perceived shades of grey that don’t actually exist. I am known to argue that nothing is black and white, that there are always shades of grey, but the exception is rape. Rape is rape. The only potentially grey areas are in how we define, recognize, and validate rape.

I spent time as a volunteer at a sexual assault crisis centre, and we were trained extensively on issues surrounding rape and consent. As a culture, we are taught to speak of and think about rape a certain way. Media only covers rapes that tend to be prosecutable, and not those that may happen but never make it to a courtroom.

So, culturally, there is this perception of what constitutes rape – we envision someone violently forcing themselves on someone, proceeding when their partner has clearly said no. There are certain kinds of victims we believe (those who say no forcefully and vociferously, those who are chaste, who dressed conservatively, who did everything “right”) and kinds of victims we shame (if a victim was drunk, dressed “inappropriately”, engaging in risky behaviour, sexually experienced, in a relationship with or married to her rapist, then s/he becomes not the “right” kind of victim). This is all part of rape culture. It is perpetuated day-in and day-out through how we talk about sex, consent, women, men, and rape.

It is not surprising, then, when people are confused about rape, or when terms like “grey rape” emerge. But let me just be clear – there is no such thing as grey rape. It does not exist. And this would all be so much more apparent to both men and women if how we talked about sex and consent was clearer. Read more

Posted on by Jasmine Peterson in Feminism, Pop Culture 6 Comments

Spotlight on Jennifer Breakspear – Options for Sexual Health

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Jennifer Breakspear

by Josey Ross

As a university student I joined the board of Options for Sexual Health—formerly Planned Parenthood of BC. I wanted to be giving my time and energy to a sex-positive organization that provides judgment-free sexual health care to anyone who accesses it. I have also accessed services in a professional capacity as an anti-violence worker and have been blown away by not just the level of knowledge on the Sex Sense line but the warmth, compassion and lack of judgment.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jennifer Breakspear since she was named the Executive Director of Opt last May, but I wanted to get to know her a little better, and to highlight the excellent work that both she and the organization are doing.

Can you briefly (or not so briefly) describe your journey to Opt?

It’s been a windy career path that led to my arrival at Opt. My resume includes my early days as a cook, a paramedic, a union organizer, a federal public servant and an academic. Most recently I’ve been working full-time in non-profit management. However, one constant in both my work life and my personal life has been a commitment to making a difference. It was that commitment that led to my start in the non-profit sector.

I was a volunteer member of the Board of Director of Vancouver’s queer community centre when through a series of events the Executive Director position was vacant and I decided to resign from the Board and compete for the position. When I successfully landed the job I stepped into a huge challenge to rebrand the centre (from The Centre to QMUNITY), shift the organization from deficits to financial stability and establish QMUNITY as a central point of engagement for the Vancouver queer communities. The following four years were a roller coaster of growth, learning, successes, and challenges. By the time I learned about the Opt opportunity I had achieved many things that I had set out to at QMUNITY and was ready for my next career challenge.

As a queer young(ish) person myself, I was really excited when you were named the new Executive Director of Opt. One of the immediate changes I noticed you’ve implemented was gender-neutral bathrooms at the AGM. What other changes do you have in the works to make Opt even more queer-friendly?

This past fall we implemented a Dignity and Respect Policy which explicitly states “Options for Sexual Health (Opt) is committed to providing a non-judgmental environment which upholds the dignity and respect of the individual and which supports every individual’s right to work, volunteer, learn and access services free from harassment, intimidation and bullying. Opt recognizes the right of every individual to such an environment and expects all members of the Opt community to fulfill their responsibilities in this regard.” We used the roll-out of the policy to have widespread discussion and education about how we can best serve all British Columbians of all ages, all genders and all orientations. The staff and volunteers at Opt want to be truly inclusive and supportive of the sexual and reproductive health care needs of all our clients and we are working to ensure that all our staff have the education and awareness necessary do so. Read more

Posted on by Josey Ross in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

Why Minnesota Should Teach Safe Touch

Teach Safe Touch CreatorsWe are 6 graduate students in the Gender and Women’s studies department at Minnesota State, Mankato. During our first semester of graduate school we took a class titled, Collective Action. We needed to find a way to participate in activism collectively, and make a difference in our community. You can find us on Twitter @TeachSafeTouch.

We created Teach Safe Touch, which advocates for the health and dignity of all by challenging the current Minnesota sex education curriculum to include masturbation as a safe-sex alternative. because we collectively felt that current sex-education is lacking at a local and state level. Along with that sentiment, we wanted to create a safe and open dialogue, where students and teachers are able to openly discuss sex, sexuality, masturbation, and reproductive health.

We acknowledge that youth are having sex and we live in a society that is hypersexualized yet reaches abstinence only. Therefore, we collectively believed it was our obligation to start the conversation and challenge the current sex education curriculum.

Our project is needed now more than ever. In Minnesota in 2009, an average of 16 adolescents became pregnant each day. Although teen pregnancy is on the decline, the United States still has one of the highest rates of all developed countries. Furthermore, adolescent sexual activity is on the rise and condom use is on the decline, so while teens may not be getting pregnant as often, they still are not approaching sexual activity in a safe manner. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism Leave a comment

Birth Control Blues

Every night at exactly 8:55, my phone sounds an alarm and a crying baby ringtone reminds me to take my birth control. I don’t know when (or if) I plan on having children; all I know is that I don’t want any right now. So I trust my hopes and future plans (my life as I know it) to a little pill. Imagine my anxiety when I heard a major birth control supplier was issuing a recall due to a packaging error.

Gradually my racing pulse returned to normal as I learned that my brand was not affected, and that the packaging error was easy to detect. But this brush with unexpected pregnancy got me thinking about the pill and my reliance on it. It reminded me of a poem by Joyce Stevens about why she is part of the women’s liberation movement, one of her reasons being that “we still can’t get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon.”

That poem was published in 1975, and not much seems to have changed. The pill was revolutionary when it was first developed in the 1960’s, and it continues to be essential still, but this can’t be the best we can do.

Of course there are alternatives, but they really aren’t a far cry from the pill. It seems if we are to avoid pregnancy, we must pick our poison. I know someone who conceived a child while using Nuva Ring. I know someone who felt sick all the time while using Yaz. I know people who experienced agonizing uterine contractions and ongoing pain after the insertion of an IUD. I know someone, a non-smoker, who suffered a blood clot.

This, of course, is only anecdotal, but these stories are part of the world in which I live and make my decisions. What are we supposed to do? Even women who want or already have children need a safe way to manage when and how many they have.

I heard about a safe and reasonably effective method called the “Billings” method (named after the scientists who discovered it, not the city in Montana) from Vancouver-based sexuality coach Kim Anami. The method involves examining your cervix for subtle changes in fertility over the course of a month. It is awesomely free of carcinogens and artificial hormones, but it is terrifyingly reliant on me to determine when I am ovulating.  That is not a safe enough bet.

Forcing women to choose between having children until they hit menopause VS constantly obsessing and worrying about whether their ovaries are going to sabotage their future plans VS ingesting carcinogens does not sound like a 21st century solution to family planning. Is it so much to ask that I be able to have sex any time I want without having to worry about myself getting pregnant?

Unfortunately this luxury is only afforded to men, and that is probably the reason we’re still using disco-era birth control. Yes, there are men who are devoted partners and caring fathers, but pregnancy’s ramifications fall mostly on women. With that in mind, birth control advances beyond those for convenience are apparently not an important focus for research.

It seems in this and many other areas, we are stuck in the past. I’d better get myself a record player and some bell bottoms to complement this vintage lifestyle. Then the next time there’s a recall, we can all listen to some ABBA together while we wait to see if we’re pregnant.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

Alberta Sex-Ed System May Be Deficient

The Global Forum on Men Who Have Sex With Men & HIV (MSMGF) has released the results of a  new global survey on HIV prevention strategies, which revealed that less than half of the world’s men who have sex with men (MSMs) have access to HIV prevention education.

The results aren’t terribly surprising but give a strong research backing to the anecdotal evidence about inadequate sex education and the wide variety of sex education information/programs people have access to, as we saw here in our open thread post on sex ed.

Canada might provide more school-based sex ed on the whole than the United States, but there are still strong variations based on provincial regulation and whether classes are provided by teachers or nurses. I had a pretty good experience with public school sex ed here in BC, but I have friends who got very little information. But of all the provinces, Alberta might be the worst, allowing parents to take their kids out of sex ed entirely if they object to the lessons.

Doctors Wells and Doherty from the U of A Faculty of Education outlined their concerns with Alberta’s sex ed system in the Edmonton Sun: ““This becomes a public health imperative,” Wells explained. “What kind of harm are we doing to our children by not providing them with this information?”

Indeed, points out:

Macleans is reporting on a cluster of syphilis cases in Alberta, including tragic cases of congenital syphilis that have left nine infants dead and adult cases of untreated syphilis leading to neurological and heart disorders. Unfortunately, the article’s author has buried the lede under a whistful account of 19th-century dramatist Henrik Ibsen’s syphilis play Ghosts.

Way down in the article’s second-last paragraph, the author gets to the point:

“Others wonder if conservative mores have been part of the drama. “Our sex ed is a patchwork, with little strong guidance from the top,” warns Pam Krause of Calgary’s Sexual Health Centre. “People are okay to deal with certain things, but we’re still suffering from a lack of normalization of the harder topics.” Even medical education in Alberta, she suggests, has allowed Victorian morality to interfere with the struggle for teaching resources.” 

Lest we forget, in 2009, Alberta passed Bill 44 forcing teachers to notify parents in advance about any classroom discussions of sex or religion, giving parents the right to opt their children out.

Instead of making sure kids in schools have comprehensive sex education, Alberta’s idea of making young people aware of STIs apparently involves unclear satirical ad campaigns like “Plenty of Syph”.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

Open Thread: Sex Ed

Reading the 24 Hours I came across this story: “Canadian Ignorant about HIV: Survey”, which discussed the results of a recent natural study that revealed only 50% of Canadians believe condoms to be effective against HIV transmission, when they’ve been shown to be 80% effective in stopping HIV transmission between heterosexuals.

I was surprised at the number too so I thought it was a good opportunity to have an open thread on sex ed.

I had my first sex ed class in Grade 6, for which my school brought in a local public health nurse. She also did sessions for classes in grades 8 and 9 at my Junior High. She addressed a range of issues, including same-sex sex, the use of dental dams for oral sex, and the normalcy of masturbation. In Grade 7 sex ed was part of our science curriculum and was taught by our teacher, who treated heterosexual sex as normal. In High School sex ed went from being part of gym class (a couple very awkward sessions where the gym teachers would put us in a room and show us videos like “Captain Condom” and one about a boy concerned about his penis size), to being part of Career and Personal Planning. I found the sessions run by the public health nurse much more honest, open, and useful than the ones teachers were forced into teaching.

So what was your experience? Some questions to start things off:

1. Where did you get most of your sex ed? (School, parents, friends, on your own on the internet?)

2. If you had sex ed in school, what was it like? Who taught it? Anything particularly memorable?

3. Were there particular topics that weren’t covered?



Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics 7 Comments

Sex-Ed & Abortion Information Blocked on BC Ferries Wi Fi

I always thought the most annoying thing about BC Ferries Wi Fi was that I could never figure how to get on the network from my Blackberry, but thanks to a Freedom of Information request, I now know that even if I’d managed to get online, I wouldn’t have been able to access sites that give information about “sex ed or abortion”. 

I look at these types of websites a lot to research blog posts. For example, I turn to the websites for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada and the Pro-Choice Action Network when I’m writing about attacks on Canadian abortion rights. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Options for Sexual Health website to get information on sex education access in BC. These sites and many others have a great wealth of information on a range of sexual health issues.  

The FOI request revealed that, BC Ferries’ Wi Fi service also blocks sites involving hate speech, pornography, illegal activities, media piracy, and sites that suck up a lot of bandwidth like file transfer sites, in addition to the “sex ed and abortion” category.

But wait! Abortion services are legal here, and sex education isn’t just legal – it’s been part of our province’s school curriculum for decades! BC Ferries’ explanation is that these sites might have inappropriate pictures on them, with BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall telling CKNW: “Again, BC Ferries is a family show. We are offering free Wi-Fi and if customers want to view other sites that interest them they can do it on their own time and on their own property.” I’m not impressed with that rationale. If they want to block every legal site that might potentially have any picture that might offend any parent, they’re going to have a lot of blocking to do. How about news sites that have graphic pictures of violent events? Are they blocking sites that discuss animal testing because there might be images that provoke strong negative emotions?

In my history of working at public libraries, the policy was always to let people browse the internet freely, unless someone complains or you notice someone browsing pornography or something else illegal, in which case you were to ask the patron to kindly move to a computer with a privacy screen to not bother other patrons. This was under the assumption that we don’t know why they’re looking at the material; they could be doing legitimate research.

I’m not suggesting BC Ferries has the same obligation to fight censorship as libraries have, but it seems to me that rather than blocking a whole category of websites sharing legitimate, legal, and important information, it would be a lot better to just have a policy asking people to avoid looking at sites that may contain nudity while their screens might be viewable by other passengers. You could have a warning pop up when people log in to the Wi Fi and let passengers know that if they’re looking at an unblocked site that has graphic pictures, they’ll be asked to leave the site or stop using the Wi Fi for the remainder of the trip.

That way, we’re not stopping ferry passengers from accessing the same types of information being dispensed in doctor’s offices and Career and Personal Planning classes across the province. That is, if BC ferries doesn’t really care about blocking the text on the sites – just nudity. As David Eby, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association told Postmedia: “Certainly, there are questions about appropriate use -you don’t want someone surfing pornography in front of other passengers…But what does B.C. Ferries care if someone is learning about sexual education during their ferry ride?”

The answer might be in a telling statement Marshall made today to the CBC: “And we’ve actually been getting lots of feedback from our customers today, applauding us for respecting family values and for having these sites blocked.” The reference to “family values” makes it seem like this whole thing might have more to do with moralizing than stopping children from seeing “offensive” images. And frankly, I’m not sure that’s their role.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment